FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERONIMO, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
The Marines watched as the dust flitted across the barren dirt road. They looked on with interest as a truck drove past them before parking along the side of the road. The Marines saw a man get out of the truck and pull a shovel from the pickup’s bed, taking note of his face, his physical features, and a detailed description of the vehicle. The Marines began making adjustments to patrol routes for the following day while continuing to watch the man digging a hole on the side of the road.
The Marines are not watching the man work from a post across the road, but rather from a few miles away at a patrol base, thanks to the cameras set out for the unit by the 2nd Ground Sensor Platoon, 2nd Intelligence Battalion. The GSP’s mission is to provide early warnings and indications of enemy activity within particular areas, to monitor trends, and to keep track of their movements through an area.
“Our mission compliments the missions of other Marines in the area,” said Chicago native Sgt. James Cleveland. “They can’t have eyes everywhere. There are spaces with most defended positions that we can watch without risking someone’s life to stand post in an unsafe location. We can monitor certain routes we suspect an enemy is using or places we know (they are) using, so we can watch where they're going, what they're doing, and see what they’re carrying with them.”
The sensor emplacement team leader for 2nd GSP explained each mission dictates who, what, how much, and for how long he and his team will be watching something.
“It would not be hard for me to watch an entire FOB or a small town. If I had to I could use a whole multitude of different sensors and cameras to watch who's coming in and who's going out,” said Cleveland. “My team and I could track a vehicle as it entered an area and time how long it takes to move from one point to another while we look for abnormalities. We could see who gets out of the car, who gets in. Our sensors will tell us which people are carrying weapons and our cameras can ID them and actually show us what type of weapon they’re carrying.”
Cleveland and his team are currently serving with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, but have been constantly moving from one unit to the next in the area because of the high demand for the flexibility they can offer.
“There’s something really cool about the (intelligence) collection mission,” said Lance Cpl. Ethan Soucy, a surveillance sensor operator with 2nd GSP. “In its own way, our job is essential to the missions of the other Marines in the area. We can monitor areas for weeks at a time.”
The Woonsocket, R.I., native explained it’s the capability of being able to watch an area with vivid details on everything that goes on in it for an extended period of time that makes the GSP an asset to nearly any mission.
“We can never replace actual eyes on an objective,” said Cleveland. “However, a company commander can’t have his Marines everywhere at once and definitely not for a long stretch of time. Another benefit of our mission is the 100 percent vigilance we can use with sensors. My equipment doesn’t ever need to stop for food or water.”